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Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price

Album: Body With No BodyReleased: 1959Charted:
1
7
  • There were two versions of this song. The first had Stagger Lee and Billy gambling (Stagger Lee shot Billy at the end), the second, rushed out by ABC-Paramount after hearing complaints from radio listeners, had Stagger Lee and Billy arguing over a girlfriend, who goes back to Stagger at the end.
  • This was based on the traditional blues/folk song, "Ballad of Stack-o-Lee." There have been over 170 recorded versions, including 4 by Taj Mahal and 8 by Mississippi John Hurt, released over the past century.
  • Price recorded his version at the request of Dick Clark.
  • This was the first Rock 'n' Roll record to hit #1 despite being censored.
  • Other versions that charted in the US: Wilson Pickett, 1967 (#22, as "Stag-O-Lee"), Tommy Roe, 1969 (#25). (thanks, Brad Wind - Miami, FL, for all above)
  • In 2004 The Black Keys recorded this for their album Rubber Factory as "Stack Shot Billy." (thanks, C.J. - Farmington, MI)
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Comments: 17

The uncensored version was consistently played on the radio down south, both on the R&B (that is, black) stations and the pop stations. I never heard the version inspired by Dick Clark's queasiness until 40 years later. I have to say the Clark remake has some virtues. The band plays better and the sax player particularly, musically the remade version is a hair more exciting. They had been playing it live for some time, I guess, but the lyrics are insipid boy-girl junk, not worth anyone's serious attention.Tom - West Newton, Ma
I love the censored version. The banned original was not played on 1959 radio. The version that was played on The Top 40 radio stations and that was in the record stores and topped The Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 was the censored cleaned up- version. It's on You Tube. I love it too. The sax is baaaaaaaad. I love both versions. Dave Marsh music critic stated this in his book " The 1001 Greatest Records Ever Made". The censored version topped the charts. I'm glad they did it again that sax sounds even better. Love em both.James - Diamond Bar, Ca
haha the backround singers with their "go Stagger Lee." Apparently the song condones cold-blooded murder...Jack - Mesa, Az
STAGGER LEE weekly positions on the Billboard Hot 100 entered on December 8, 1958, peaked at #1 (for 4 weeks) on February 9, 1959
94, 77, 66, 53, 36, 21, 9, 5, 5, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 8, 16, 19, 36, 64, 86
Dmitry - Kiev, Ukraine
I always liked Lloyd's Gritty but sincere voice...
a good job from Mr. New Orleans...by way of Kenner!
Steve Dotstar - Los Angeles, Ca
This song was in the movie "Shag the Movie".
~Cari, Canton, Ohio
Cari - Canton, Oh
Nick Cave's sex-, violence- and expletive-laden (he uses the word motherf***er on least eight different occasions throughout the song!) version does indeed appear on his "Murder Ballads" album. In it, Cave changes or adds to the original story of the song quite significantly.

After "his woman throws him out in the ice and snow", Stagger Lee goes to an establishment called The Bucket of Blood, where he kills the bartender for disrepecting him. He then meets a prostitute named Nellie Brown who offers him her services free of charge.

But before they can begin, Nellie's man Billy Dilly comes in, and an apparently bisexual Stagger Lee (who, in words too obscene to print here, actually claims to prefer men to women) forces Billy to perform oral sex upon him and, as he does, Stagger Lee shoots him in the head. This is where the song ends.

It's obviously not for the faint-hearted or easily offended, but I think Nick Cave's version is pretty cool too.
Tony - Sunshine Coast, Qld, Australia
Nick Cave released a version of Stagger Lee where he kills a bartender it's kind of graphic but very cool I think it's on the Murder Ballads album.Kat - Canberra, United States
I've heard a version by Mississippi John Hurt, and in this version, Hurt seems to portray Stagger Lee as a ruthless, cold-blooded killer, and i The part about him being a killer and being hanged seems what I get out of the song. In the song, it talks about him being hanged. What do you guys think?n this version, both men are gambling as well.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
There's a lenghty piece of this song is Greil Marcus's book 'Mystery Train'. Also, seek out the uncensored version of this song (the version where Billy gets shot). The vocal is better and sung with more conviction.Don - Newmarket, Canada
Saint Louis Globe Democrat
December 28, 1895
"William Lyons, 25, colored, a levee hand, living at 1410 Morgan Street, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o'clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, also colored. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. The discussion drifted to politics and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon's hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. He was removed to the City Hospital. At the time of the shooting the saloon was crowded with negroes. Sheldon is a carriage driver and lives at 911 North Twelfth Street. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away. He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station. Sheldon is also known as 'Stag' Lee."
I guess the core of the story is the same, but none of these sites suggest they are paraphrasing.
For those interested in the history; Billy Lyons died from his wounds, and Stag Lee was tried for this killing. The first trial ended in a hung jury amidst major political controversy. He was convicted in the second trial, served time, and died in the nineteen-teens.
911 N. 12th Street, which was "Stag" Lee Sheldon's house, is still standing, although it was recently boarded up and for sale; it's the only house remaining on the block (directly across from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building). About 25 years ago, an alderman named Bruce Sommer ran a restaurant there called the Sommer House -- with live music, including old-time performers Cousin Curtis & the Cash Rebates, and blues singer Tom Hall. Tom wasn't aware that he was singing in Stagger Lee's old house.
Bill - Beechhurst, Ny
The Stag-o'Lee saga developed mythic proportions in secondhand storytelling, not unlike Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Pecos Bill, and other subjects of American tall tales. One story--from a school English textbook--had it that when Stag o'Lee died, he developed such a reputation of being badass, he took over Hell from the Devil.Anonymous
Hi Andrew~

Wrong em'boyo is a completely different song, it just uses the first few lines of Stagger Lee as a false intro.
Ydur - Knoxville, Tn
stagger lee was real and the story the song tells is pretty much true, except stagger killed billy over a arguement about politics, not gambling..Stag's house is still standing in st louis..Frank - Pittsburgh, Pa
The clash had a song called 'Wrong em Boyo' on the 'London Calling' which refers to stagger lee and Billy in it. Im not sure if it's the same song because I've never heard this song but Stagger Lee and Billy are gambling and billy cheats then Stagger Lee shoots him. Does anyone know if it is the same song?Andrew - Ballymoney, Ireland
Actually, the first rock'n'roll single to hit #1 was "Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts in 1954, a year before "Rock Around the Clock did the trick."

"Stagger Lee" was the first rock'n'roll record to hit #1 after it was censored. While there were some rock'n'roll records hit the top spot before "Stagger Lee," they were the same versions at #1 as they were upon initial release.

This latter fact was also mentioned in THE BILLBOARD BOOK OF NUMBER ONE HITS.
Brad Wind - Miami, Fl
Stagger Lee was not the First Rock 'n'Roll record to reach #1. Stagger Lee was #1 on February 9, 1959 and stayed there for 4 weeks. By February of 1959 Elvis had 10 #1 records already. Buddy Holly had one and so did the first group to have the very first rock 'n' roll song to reach #1, Bill Haley and his Comets with (We're Gonna)Rock Around the Clock. I found these song facts in Fred Bronson's Book The Billboard Book of Number One Hits.John - South Bend, In